Friends of Rowlett Animals is an all-volunteer non-profit organization that started in 2004. They are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of homeless animals. It is the organization’s mission to come to the aid of homeless pets in Rowlett and the surrounding communities, create community awareness about the plight of these animals, educate the public, enrich the lives of these pets while they are being sheltered in the community, and end the killing of pets in need.
Welcome to the ARPA Animal Rescue of the week podcast, featuring outstanding organizations around the country that are helping animals & the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues & shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue.
The Friends of Rowlett Animals was founded in 2004 and started with just 4 volunteers. They sponsored 1 to 2 pets per month and reduced the adoption fees for those pets in order to increase adoptions for the Rowlett Animal Shelter. They have grown to over 100 volunteers and they hold a 98% Live Release Rate and has since 2014. With the growth of their volunteer program they have been able to host multiple adoption events, sponsor programs and much, much more.
Hey Michelle, welcome to the show. Thank you. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you. You are from Friends of Rowlett Animals there in Rowlett, Texas, and I’m excited to learn a little bit more about what you guys are doing there. So why don’t you kick us off and tell us what your mission is. So Friends of Rowlett Animals, we are a 501(c)(3). We support the Rowlett Animal Shelter and we were actually founded in 2004 by just four volunteers that wanted to support the shelter, helping with getting dogs adopted, lowering the adoption fee and helping out as they could with heartworm. All of the heartworm treatments are covered, so that’s not a not a problem for the adopters. They’ll never have to pay for that. We cover that for them, and then we also have our foster program for cats. And then we also have a barn cat program and a TNR program.
You guys do a lot of work around cats. Do you guys also support the dogs at the shelter as well? We do, there aren’t as many dogs that come into the shelter any given time. All of the small dogs seem to be adopted very quickly, and the larger dogs are the ones that are harder to move. But it hasn’t so far, knock on wood, been too much of a problem getting them adopted. There are some that do stay longer, but so far we have not had a problem with space issues with the dogs. When they go code red, we’re able to move them out to other rescues or get them adopted pretty quickly.
Cats, on the other hand, we’re not exactly in a rural area. We’re close to Dallas area. Okay. But, you know, it’s kind of like where the country starts. So cats are a huge problem for the shelter because they do run out of space very quickly with cats. So that’s why our foster program is mainly cat-based, because we can get them their vaccinations, get them fixed and microchipped and adopted out pretty quickly. Normally, I hear dogs are the focus. When you started talking about the cats and that was your primary, it was interesting to me to hear that, as I don’t normally hear that. Yes.
So I definitely want to dive into those programs. You know, I’m not sure if everybody out there understands what a ‘Friends of’ organization does, help me understand what that means to the local animal shelter, and what role do you play? So we do make sure that our focus always remains the shelter. So if they have a need, like a major medical expense for a dog that has a broken leg, or you know, something like that, or also a cat, for that matter. We step in and help them do that, whether it’s to raise the funds, to get that broken leg fixed or to find another rescue that can take them in that local around us. We do work with a lot of rescues around our area, kind of as a coalition, if you will. And you know, we all try to work together to pool our resources and see who has space available or are able to take on those medical cases.
So that’s something that I think that we are really working really hard on is getting to know all of the local rescues around us and work together for all the animals around here. That is our focus is making sure that the shelter is taken care of, and we do have a 98% live release rate at the shelter, and we want to keep it that way. So that is a lot of hard work. And the other part of what we do is we have our own foster program for cats to help divert those cats from going into the shelter in the first place and taking up that space that’s needed for other cats that come into the shelter.
You’re obviously a key a piece for the shelter, right in raising funds. That’s gotta be a huge piece of what you guys do both medical. And if there’s other needs that arise, does the shelter also have their own fundraising plan or ideas? Or does that all go through you? They do have their own events that they host like an adopt-a-thon. They had a couple of adopt-a -thons this year, and they’ve also done fundraising through that as well. But a lot of the major medical things is something that we help raise those funds for.
ou guys work with other local rescues to find space and to help animals. And one of the things that’s always interesting to me between shelters and rescues is they often don’t work together. That’s my perception in having conversations, and they just seem very segregated and one of the things that I think is cool, but what you guys are doing and I don’t know if it’s how all of the ‘friends of’ organizations work, but I like that you’re kind of that go between, between shelters and rescues. I almost see that as a way to help them to get to work together instead of being very silo.
Talk to me a little bit about how that works, because I feel like you’re balancing a shelter on one hand and rescues on the other, and they really do work differently. They think about things differently. They view things differently. So tell me how that kind of works for you. We have lots of Facebook groups. I don’t know if that’s a rounds and everywhere, but definitely here we do and we also get to know the shelters in the other areas as well. So we’ll just put it out there in some of these groups where lots of people are in and say, you know, “hey, we have this dog and it’s a mixed breed dog of whatever it is and it has this medical issue. Is there anybody out there that can take him in?” And a lot of times will get people that will say that they can take him in and come and pull him from the shelter or the alternative that is that we’ll put it out there on our Facebook page that we have this dog in the shelter that needs help and raise the funds on Facebook as well. Facebook’s been an extremely integral part of everything that we do and being able to communicate around us. So it’s been pretty awesome.
And just this weekend I had the chance to go to a rescue. It was actually a dog rescue about 45 minutes away from us, and they just happen to have cats. A mom cat came onto their property and had babies. Oh, boy. And they found homes for six of the babies, but not two of them. And I happened to meet them at the Best Friends Conference and told them that we could take those cats off their hands. So it works both ways. And those cats are so sweet and we have the matter of adoption center, and they will, uh, hopefully get adopted pretty soon so that it was exciting that we were able to help them. I mean, it’s just as exciting to help another rescue out and see them happy. As it is that you know some of our more troubling cases for us get taken in by somebody that another rescue that specializes more in that area and can take that on. So it’s good that we can do this because it just benefits all of these pets so much so they can get the specialized care that each of the groups can handle. It really makes a difference in the lives of these pets and where they need to go.
I definitely agree with that. It’s intriguing to me cause a lot of these organizations that I talked to both rescues and shelters. They don’t talk more with the local organizations. Let’s say within a 60 or even 100 mile radius. And what I hear you saying is that “no, that’s our goal is to work with organizations, rescues and shelters alike to build those relationships and help each other.” Do you find that the people that you’ve made relationships are along that same line in thinking and wanting to work with local rescues? Or do you still see some push and pull? You know what I mean? I don’t want to work with this group, or I only want to work with this group. In Texas, we know that there’s an overpopulation of animals, right? And we know that the focus is helping save as many lives as possible. Whether that means adopting or sending other states are working with other organisations. Everybody has a different way of doing things, but it really sounds like you guys kind of pride yourself on, no matter what type of organization or no matter where you are. It’s one common goal and it sounds like the organizations you’re making relationships with all feel that same way.
I would hope so. I think now that face to face and talking to each other on the phone or anything other than speaking through social media is a lot better. If you talk more about what you specialize in, you can kind of find out what their organization believes as far as taking care of the animals or what they do specifically. And then that puts any rumors to bay, I guess. Because that would be a thing you will see online. Ah, lot of times some of the bad sides of rescue that people talk about a lot, but I haven’t found that to be the case when you get to talk to people one on one.
So let me ask the question. What is the hardest part about connecting with people? It seems like most everybody is connecting and chatting through social media and emails like you’re saying. So what would you say to somebody who is struggling to make those relationships happen? I think I have found that the hardest part is starting, you know, picking up the phone and calling or getting on Instant Messenger and just speaking to them alone. It’s everything that you build up in your head before you start, I think. It’s the anxiety, right? Exactly. “Well, what if they say this and I don’t like it?” It’s okay to say no, we can say no, but yeah, I mean, the majority of us in animal rescue have the best intentions for these animals, and maybe we don’t always do the exact right thing, but we’re in it and we believe in what we’re doing. And we want every single one of these pets to have a forever family. So I haven’t found there to be much on the bad side. When I talk to people one on one. Okay.
Congratulations on that because I think that’s a huge step. Thank you. Yeah, that’s been a part of what we have done before I came on board. So that’s just where you keep growing and expanding and doing it that way. We’re not as strong in the dogs and in the foster program, but there’s many Dallas area dog rescues. So I think that’s how we ended up with the cat program because our problem is keeping the cat’s out of the shelter, especially cats that are feral or have medical issues one thing or another. So let’s talk about that for a second, because I do think that’s a huge part of it. You didn’t mention that one of your programs is the foster program to help keep cat’s out of the shelter. Tell me a little bit about how that program works. The shelter will recommend us any time that they’re getting full on cages for cats. So they’ll tell the person, you know, if you’d rather not bring them to the shelter. We do have Friends of Rowlett Animals. They might have space to take in your cat. They’ll contact us that way or people. We do have a center kind of in the middle of where people drive by and see our sign and contact us about things like that as well.
We try to take in local cats out of the city of Eilat. First, we will take from surrounding areas to like I talked about the people from the dog rescue. But our focus is trying to make sure that our city, since we are Friends of Rowlett Animals is taking care of. We currently have about 20 fosters and total some people are on. Some people are off, taking a break at any given time. But during kitten season, which I think we’re still in kitten season 2017. Oh boy. It’s usually everybody’s on during the summers. So we take them in, we get them fully vaccinated and then they all get fixed and Rabies shot in microchipped. Of course, our organization’s stays on that microchip forever, so that if something happens, they will always come back to us. And we do ask if our adopters ever need to re-home their pets that they contact us first cause we always take our cat’s back.
We do have a location at a PetSmart. It’s actually one city over, but it’s a much bigger city than Rowlett is. They do get a lot of traffic. So that’s how we get a lot of our cats adopted through there. And we do have some amazing volunteers that go clean every day and keep everything fresh. And the cats get to be played with every day. And the PetSmart employees up there just amazing as well. They like to take the cats out, play with them, too. So and then sometimes our cats will get adopted out of foster care, either through friends that have seen him on Facebook, we do have a Facebook page for our adoptable cats. And yeah, so we market the heck out of them. Yeah.
I mean, you don’t have another choice, right? I mean, you have to—you have to show people the animals that you have and if you’re going to save lives, right? And so Facebook, like you said, is a huge tool in that. And I know what helps a lot of groups, you know, with adoption and just awareness in general. And so you got to use things that are out there that work for you? Yes, and it’s working. It really is. If you can get some social media mavens on board that know Facebook and Instagram like the back of their hands and it’s all in, it works. Yeah. No, it definitely does. I think that’s really cool. And I again I just love the relationship that you have with the animal shelter and how you work with each other, right? To support what you have going on, and you know that takes a lot of relationship building and an execution that’s not an—that’s not an easy thing to manage on a day to day basis. So I think it’s incredible what you guys air are doing.
You also mentioned that you guys have a TNR and a barn cat program, so I want to spend a little bit of time kind of talking about these two. And how did they come about? And how do they work in your area? Good question. Actually, TNR was not legal in our city until earlier this year, so the Barn Cat program was a product of the need to get the feral cats out of the shelter. While Barn cat programs aren’t our first go to now, the barn kept program has been around since 2014 which was the last time the shelter had to euthanize for space. We put the word out there as far and wide as we can in the cities around this that are more rural, and they usually don’t have a lack of cats coming in around. “But I’m already vaccinated and fix. That’s the draw,” right? Right, absolutely.
So we give them the setups, we provide them free of charge. We work with them to show them how to use the set up so that the cats know that this is home now and this is where they get fed and it has been pretty successful. We’ve been able to place all the feral cats either through the Barn Cat program or other rescues around us that have similar programs to that. And then when once TNR was legal this year, we immediately got online and found a way to be able to track calling managers and the cats that they have and teach them how to trap, neuter and return them back into their neighborhoods and how to care for them properly and try to get that last cat that is so sneaky and doesn’t—. There’s always one. There is, you know, it’s like a party when you finally do.
So, yes, we’ve done a lot of training. We got a lot of information from alley cat allies to help us with TNR as well. I know I’m like, plugging all these different places, but that’s where all of our information comes from everywhere. There’s nothing new under the sun, I guess. Well, you have to use the tools and the information that are out there, right? There are organizations that have this down to a science, and why reinvent the wheel? If there’s a program out there that works, sure, you can make tweaks and changes to match your community. But I love that you’re using programs that are proven to work, and I think that’s important.
So now, with the TNR that you’re doing, how are you Spaying and neutering those animals? Do you work with the animal shelter? Do you guys work with the local vet? Obviously you’re coming up with the funds to help that or are you getting grants? Who are you working with when it comes to the TNR program? We do not actually have any grants, currently. I don’t know if you know much about Rowlett. Rowlett actually had a tornado that came through December 26 of 2015. And those were the only grants that we’ve ever received was during that time trying to get animals back healthy again and back to their owners and whatnot.
So since then, we have not had any grants for any of our programs. We’ve raised it all on our own, but we do have local low cost spay and neuter clinics in our area from TCAP, Texas Coalition for Animal Protection and spay and neuter network are two that are pretty big in our area. And so we have worked with them to have our managers will do the work of trapping and taking them to the clinic, but we do give them vouchers so that they can take them in without the cost. But they do volunteer their time to get the cats fixed and back to their neighborhoods.
Once a month, we do have our own TNR class. So we teach some everything from identifying a feral cat or community cat as we call them, how to make sure that they don’t get fed the day beforehand so that they’re hungry and go in the trap and getting them to the clinic and back everything from start to finish. We teach them how to do it. I do like the fact that you guys recognize that there were other organizations focused on dogs and you guys decided to focus on cats. And while you’re saying we can help dogs, you’re saying that our specialty is cats and there is a need for that. That’s hard to do, I know there are organizations out there that focus on breed specific animals, dogs specifically, but a lot of them really are just about helping dogs and cats. And sometimes putting your eggs all in one basket and focusing on cats or dogs specifically I think, gives you more flexibility. That’s kind of strange to say, because you’re limiting who you’re helping, but I also feel like that the same time it helps you hone your craft.
It does since I’m one of the cat coordinators as well. It tends to be something that I talk a lot about because I’m in it day to day. The dogs we do, we do everything that we can and to make sure that they get healthy and adopted out of the shelter. I think it’s just need-based because the cats were, I hate using problem, they’re a problem for the shelter because they were running out of space for all of these cats. So I think it came out of the need of trying to protect the cats and not have them take up space. And then what happens when you don’t have any more space? And that wasn’t something that they were willing or wanting to do. So we wanted to make sure that all of the cats got out of there and got adopted into forever families. So that’s kind of where that came out of was just the need for space.
Help paint the picture for me, in the animal shelter, how many dogs are they able to house versus how many cats? I think I’m probably not exact, but I think it’s like 24 dogs and 36 cats. Okay, So speaking of cats, not only do you focus on cats, but you also do some dog stuff. Yes. I want to talk a little bit about a program I see on your website called Canine Cruisers. So talk to me a little bit about what that is and maybe how that came about. So that came out because of the way that our shelter is set up, there’s not a lot of space for the dogs to kind of run around and play, or you know. So, we love for the dogs to be able to get out of the shelter and just kind of experienced life outside of outside of those fences. So that is a program where our volunteers can pretty much check out a dog for the day, take them around and go to Dairy Queen for an ice cream or Starbucks for a Frappuccino, or go for a walk in the park or by the lake. We have a large lake right in our city and, you know, just kind of get out on the town and we encourage them to take lots of pictures and kind of see the dog in the environment that they will be and not the one that they’re in in the shelter.
When you’re taking pictures of dogs and shelters, they always look kind of pitiful. But if you taking pictures of these dogs out in about, they can also check them out to take them overnight. If it’s a good situation for the dog, the shelter has the last word on which dogs can go. Sure. And take pictures in the home environment and see that happy, goofy smile from the dogs. And that way, potential adopters can see something more than the barking dog behind the fence that you kinda see in smaller shelters like ours. So that’s the idea behind the program. It’s fairly new and getting started, so we’re excited to see where it goes and how it plays out.
Where did this idea come from? And then I’m curious. Just in the short amount of time that you’ve had this going, what has been the feedback from the community? Are they supportive? They are supportive, and we’re trying to get the word out more about this program so that we can get more pictures. That was the whole idea was to get these pictures and videos to put together. It’s been fun. We’ve had a few so far, not as many as I probably would have hoped for. But the volunteers loves it. You know, they love being able to take the dogs out and go do something different with them. I’m not so sure how much the community is aware of that program just yet. Okay.
And like I said, we still have some advertising to go, but I’m excited about it. I really am, even at minimum, that the dogs get to get out and do something different and don’t go store crazy inside the shelter. Yeah. It’s kind of a combination of things that we’ve seen online from other programs and things on Facebook, where dogs are taken out and you know what? I must digress, we did do a lot of taking the dogs out of shelters for pictures with different community departments. I think we did the fire house first, where we took a dog and got to take pictures with the fire fighters and in the truck, and we did a police officers in bluebonnets. Bluebonnets pictures are a huge thing in Texas and inside the police car. We also took two at our library and the parks and rec department. And all this was headed up by our volunteer coordinator, did it with a few volunteers, and that was actually pretty exciting. And that’s kind of where our program started initially was doing that. So we’re hoping it takes off more from this point.
Yeah. I’m not from Texas. So explain this blue bonnet thing to me. I’m a little lost. Bluebonnets are very short term of flour. Each year comes spring, and every family takes their pictures in the bluebonnets, people with their dogs. And it’s definitely a thing. I have never heard of that, but very cool. I love that it’s a thing in Texas, and I love that you guys are taking advantage of that with the different programs and opportunities for photos and using that to build the awareness of your group. I think that’s really cool. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
So tell me a little bit about the volunteer program that you guys have and how can people get involved? We have our volunteer application on our website, which is friendsofrowlettanimals.org, and you can go to our website and fill out the application, and then we have a online orientation. So we kind of learn all about us and our programs and whatnot. And then we do an animal handling training at the shelter where you can learn how to properly take the dogs in and out of their cages and take them to adoption events. And we also have our foster program. We have our PetSmart volunteers that go to the place where we have our adoptions for our cats and then just socializing at the shelter. You can go up to the shelter any time and play with the cats or dogs and have them get lovings up there.
One of my favorite parts of these conversations is memorable stories. I’m looking for one story that just has impacted you more than others. Do you have one that kind of stands out that you want to share? I have a recent one. I could probably go on all day long about all of the stories that come to mind, but a recent one is there was somebody that contacted us online that actually lived in the neighborhood. That’s kind of behind where I live. And there was a cat that was just kind of hanging out in a spare tire that they had in their yard and seemed frightened and skinny and scared and kind of looked terrible all over. So I just decided “I’m gonna go get this cat,” and so, you know, I didn’t know if this cat was feral or you know what the problem was.
So when I showed up, they were like, “okay, over here, this where the cat is.” Yeah. I went over there and just kind of slowly, you know, inched forward to see what with story was, and she’s so scared. But once I started petting her head, oh, my goodness. This cat, all she wanted was love. Oh. Super skinny and just looked terrible. So we took her to the vet. She had chronic URI, it took months for her to get over all of this, and she just recently yesterday got the all clear. The difference in this kitty from the pictures that we took when we first got her to how she looks now, she is just amazingly beautiful. And we’ve posted on our Facebook page that before and after but it doesn’t even look like the same cat this cat named Pearl. Her Foster did such a great job with her, and she’s a little more plump now. This beautiful coat, kind of a silver, almost Siamese color, but she’s more of a tabby. She’s just amazingly gorgeous and still just as lovey.
Once she finds her home, she’s just the perfect little lap cat. So you just never know with cats. You know, some people would have thought that was a feral cat and just not bothered. I’m so thankful to the people that called about her because she’s just an amazing doll. Yeah. So it’s stories like that that get me every time. And when you put those pictures because I saw there was the progression over the course of the months. But when you made that before and after pictures together and it doesn’t even look like the same cat, and those get me every time. Yeah.
I wish organizations took more of the before pictures. You know, I think when animals come into organizations, it’s not something we think about capturing that low point for them. But to your point into your story. There is so much that comes out of that before and after photo that makes an appeal a connection to that potential forever home. Yes. People want to see where they came from and where they’re at in that progression. Yes. So that they kind of look back and get that story and get that feeling for those that aren’t involved in that animal’s story, at the very beginning, they can’t relate to that. But by showing them one simple picture or a quick 32nd video, there’s so much that comes from that. You know, you don’t know the animal until you until you try. Exactly.
Like you said, she was so scared when you first got there, but you had to—she warmed up to you and it took a second. And eventually she trusted you enough to allow you to pet her and pick her up and care for her. And those are touching stories. So I appreciate that you took the moment to share that with us. Yeah, she’s amazing. Kitty, she’s gonna make a great forever family member for somebody someday. Yeah, I think that’s awesome.
So, Michelle, as we get close to wrapping things up here. I want to know what the future looks like for you guys. Any future programs that you’re looking at doing? Is there anything that you could get some help on from the volunteers that are out there? Tell me what the future looks like. Well, of course I have my own grand ideas for the organization. Oh ,I like this, please do. You know, we’re gonna take it one step at a time. Sure. And make sure that our focus is always gonna be on the shelter first, because we want to make sure that they never have to make those hard decisions that a lot of shelters still do in Texas. I mean, Texas is still pretty behind the times when it comes to euthanizing for space. So we’re hoping to take what we’ve done here in Rowlett and help the cities around us get to the same point.
So things like the Canine Cruisers program that are brand new and TNR that’s brand new wouldn’t really want to focus on those programs and make sure that we’re using them to the best of our ability to get those dogs and cats taken care of and just kind of grow from there. The big plans are—can come later, but right now we’re just kind of focused on the programs that we have now and growing them out. You know, what I really appreciate in that is that you have big plans. You know where you want to take the organization, and of course, there’s a million little steps in between, but I think you have to have something that you can work towards in small steps. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. And you’re not progressing. So I love that you have a big idea. And by working on the small things, that gets you a little closer to whatever that big dream might be for you guys. So I appreciate that. Yeah.
One of the things that the shelter is doing is trying to raise funds and make plans to hopefully one day in the next few years moved to a bigger shelter. We do have a lot of apartments going up in our city and a lot of new homes, which, you know, also brings pets. And a lot of times unwanted pets for people moving into apartments that can’t keep them anymore because the apartments, don’t allow it or, you know, whatever the case may be. So with all of this new development that’s going on in our little city, and so space is going to be an issue coming up in these next few years. Sure. So that is one of our bigger plans. And they are making renovations now to try to accommodate everything. But a lot of the newer shelters have all these new fancy things. And we want that, too. Yeah. No, it’s a good goal. And before you know it, a few years has come and gone.
Michelle, I’ve really enjoyed my time chatting with you today, and I hope that we connected on everything we needed to. Is there anything that we may be missed that you want to mention before we wrap things up? I don’t think so. We have an amazing volunteer base. We have an amazing community that really, truly loves our animals. So, you know, as Friends of Rowlett Animals we’re in such a great place. So , you know, that’s just something that I can’t, I can’t say it enough is how much I appreciate it. All of the hard work that goes into what these volunteers do and just so grateful to work with them. Nicely stated. Definitely. Well, Michelle, thank you again for joining me today, and we hope to stay in touch and watch the progress that you guys make. Awesome. Thank you so much, this was fun.
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